Bruce Dessau, the founder of the comedy website Beyond The Joke, is a very popular writer and arts critic. His career has seen him interview most, if not all, of the biggest names in comedy. His novel Beyond A Joke: Inside the Dark World of Stand-up Comedy, explores the hidden side of entertainment that is not necessarily widely known, and considers what it is about a comedian’s mentality that makes them want to take to the stage in seek of audience approval. Dessau has also written various biographies as well as writing a regular column for the Evening Standard
To learn more about Bruce’s work as a writer, I asked him a few questions…
1) Which aspects of your work make you the most proud?
I’m not sure if I would use the word “proud” about what I do, but I guess I’m reasonably proud of the fact that I’ve been going to the Edinburgh Fringe every year for two decades and I’m still relatively sane. It’s three weeks of madness but I’d recommend it to anyone. Comedy really does still excite me, it’s not something I think I’m ever going to grow out of. It amazes me when I meet people who say they have never been to a comedy gig. Yes, there are some. The fools.
I’m a little bit proud of beyondthejoke.co.uk. I was quite intimidated by the idea of setting up a website after years as a print journalist, but actually it has been pretty straightforward. Hard work at times, but not anyway near as scary or stressful as I expected.
2) Is there anyone that you regret never getting to interview?
I’ve been lucky enough to interview a few greats and heroes. Rik Mayall, Billy Connolly, Joan Rivers, Daniel Kitson. I’m not sure if I like interviewing comedians that much because they are rarely as entertaining one-to-one as they are onstage. Maybe they go onstage to avoid talking one-to-one. And they are often unable or unprepared to talk about the mechanics of their work.
I interviewed Bill Hicks when he was at his peak. My big regret is that I recorded over the tape* shortly afterwards.
3) What advice would you give to people who run their own websites?
Don’t pay anyone to advise you on search engine optimisation. Use spellcheck. Make sure you post new original content every day, even weekends… hang on, I’m not giving my rivals any tips.
Save all your correspondence. I’ve thrown away personal hand-written pre-fame letters from Ricky Gervais and Russell Brand among others. And don’t record over/wipe interviews.
4) What is the greatest thing to come out of your work so far?
That’s an almost impossible question to answer. I’m a journalist. I’m not saving lives, striving for world peace or even attempting to make people laugh. I’m just lucky enough to have the opportunity to write about something that I really enjoy. I think John Robins might have tweaked a line in his show after he read my review a few years ago.
5) Are you currently working on any writing projects?
I’ve written a number of books about comedy, on Reeves & Mortimer, Billy Connolly, Rowan Atkinson and Red Dwarf and a few others, but I’m never completely satisfied with them. When I look over them I see some things I’m glad I wrote but mostly I wish I could start all over again. Books are a very long haul – so different to the rapidfire reviews I write for beyondthejoke.co.uk or the Evening Standard. They are a different discipline and I’m not sure if I’ll do one again. I’ve written unofficial biogs, semi-official biogs and official biogs and none have worked out as expected.
So at the moment I’m really concentrating on writing for the Evening Standard and running beyondthejoke.co.uk.
*What journalists who couldn’t do shorthand used in the olden days.